EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the Sunday, March 27 print and e-editions of the Standard-Examiner.
OGDEN -- The Utah Retirement System won't take punitive action but will monitor Ogden city in response to a double-dipping complaint lodged against top brass within the Ogden Police Department.
URS audited the OPD for more than year amid allegations that lieutenants and an assistant chief were allowed to retire and then improperly reinstated to their former rank and position without going through a competitive hiring process.
Although the URS did not completely agree with all of the muncipality's arguments against the complaint, it stated in a letter last month that no action will be taken, said Ogden City Attorney Gary Williams.
"We were very careful to comply with all laws," said Williams, who declined to disclose specific details about the city's position regarding the complaint.
Williams declined to provide a copy of the URS letter to the Standard-Examiner because, he said, it involves city personnel and is thus protected.
The city earlier declined a records request for the letter, saying the investigation was still ongoing at the time. Williams did discuss the letter's contents with a reporter.
While declining to take punitive actions, the URS will audit the OPD over the next year or two to ensure it continues to comply with state retirement laws, Williams said.
Dave Hansen, an attorney for URS, declined to comment on the audit.
Williams declined to identify the lieutenants and assistant chief who were the focus of the audit and said he doesn't know who filed the complaint with the URS.
However, Williams speculated the grievance could have been initiated by OPD Sgt. Blaine Clifford, who filed suit in 2nd District Court in Ogden seeking emergency relief because he maintains he has been unfairly passed over for promotion to lieutenant.
Clifford's lawsuit sought back pay at the lieutenant's level dating to May 2007, when he was first passed over in favor of returning retiree Lt. Mike Ashment. At the time, Clifford ranked first in the lieutenant's exam for the department.
Chiefly, the suit claimed the violations came in holding the position open for six months without recruiting to fill it and not requiring the returning retiree to take the lieutenant's exam.
"This practice has happened at least four times in the past five years to deny qualified sergeants promotions in favor of recirculating 'retired' officers throughout the city's system," the suit reads.
Last month, 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones dismissed the suit, directing Clifford to exhaust administrative remedies with the city's grievance processes, either through the Civil Service Commission or the administrative appeal process with the city's chief administrative officer.
Jones also wrote that an appeal to the URS should be considered before the district court would have jurisdiction over the complaint.
Clifford could refile in court after exhausting the grievance process, Jones ruled.
Clifford this week declined to comment on his allegations, deferring to his attorney, Elizabeth Peck, who also declined to comment.
Clifford's lawsuit, expected to become a grievance, mirrors a demand for a URS investigation that detectives Brian Eynon and Kory Checketts, president and vice president of the Ogden Police Benefit Association at the time, made to state lawmakers in November 2009.
The OPBA's dues-paying membership includes about 80 percent of the roughly 130 officers on the force. Largely a fraternal organization, the association sometimes negotiates or advocates on behalf of rank-and-file officers.
Eynon said in a written statement that he read to the Legislature's Retirement and Independent Entities Interim Committee that URS failed to enforce its own rules, which has resulted in reduced retirement benefits for Ogden police officers, to provide windfall benefits for lieutenants Ashment, Scott Conley, Marcy Korgenski and Assistant Chief Wayne Tarwater. Korgenski has since been promoted to assistant chief.
The statement says they each receive retirement benefits ranging from $45,000 to $55,000 a year.
Additionally, the city is required to pay into their personal 401(k) accounts an amount equal to what it otherwise would be paying into the state retirement system, the statement said.
Between their salaries and the contribution to their personal 401(k) accounts, the four were drawing more than $100,000 per year that they are not entitled to as retirees, the statement said.
The cumulative monetary effect has been staggering because of the failure of the city, OPD and URS to enforce its retirement rules, according to the statement.
"Over the last four years, beginning in May 2005, approximately $1.4 million, maybe more, has been misappropriated, lining the pockets of a select few at the expense of many others," Eynon said in the 2009 statement to lawmakers.
Eynon contends in the statement that the Ogden Police Department specifically created part-time slots for retired lieutenants to rotate through in an attempt to bypass state retirement rules.
That violated a retirement rule prohibiting a guarantee or agreement, written or verbal, between an employer and worker that the worker at the end of the six-month post- retirement period would have a full-time job, the statement says.
The OPD also broke another state retirement rule that requires recruitment for positions to commence as soon as possible after a retirement is announced and must be consistent with an employer's recruiting procedures for similar positions, Eynon's statement said.
Eynon and Checketts declined to comment this week on the decision by URS not to penalize the city following its investigation of the double-dipping complaint.
"Until the URS notifies us, we can't say much," said Checketts, speaking on behalf of the OPBA.
Conley declined to comment and referred all questions to Police Chief Jon Greiner.
Mayor Matthew Godfrey, Korgenski and Tarwater referred all questions to Williams.
Ashment could not be reached for comment.
Greiner said most of the complaints are based on different interpretations of the many rules and regulations involved. He said he accepts he may have a morale problem with sergeants who have been passed over for promotion dating back to 2007.
But that also applies to the last four lieutenant promotions, he said, all made in-house in the past year and filled by OPD sergeants.
"I didn't do anything wrong."
This topic is being discussed at The Weber County Forum.